Greensboro, NC -- While the inspectors with the City of Greensboro have addressed complaints at Cascades Grandview Apartments as they've received them, no one is trying to prevent problems in the first place.
News 2 dug up complaints that Cascades tenants filed with the City of Greensboro dating back to 2008.
The city's codes department responded to each of them, but the city doesn't have the authority to be proactive and inspect the building to head off problems.
"Here, you had private property owners. You had a lender. You had a private management company. And you had their private relationships with the tenants. And, without the government overstepping and getting involved in all of their business, we really couldn't do anything about it," said Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins.
Perkins said the city used to have a program in place called "RUCO."
Under RUCO, all rental units had to be inspected to prove they were up to code before renters moved in. However, last year the state legislature declared RUCO against state law.
Perkins said now, city inspectors can only show up if someone sends them a complaint. If no one told the city inspectors that the city code was being violated, there was no way inspectors could know.
"The assumption from us folks in the city was they were operating a private dormitory which they had operated for 15 plus years. There was no evidence presented to us to the contrary up until recently," said Mike Kirkman, zoning administrator for the City of Greensboro.
City officials said the first time anyone noticed that non-students are living at Cascades was in June, when a city codes inspector went to check out the broken air-conditioning.
Chief Kevin Pettigrew with the Greensboro Fire Department said firefighters inspect the apartment building annually, but they only look for working emergency lights, exit lights, safety alarms and other fire and life safety equipment.
The last time Cascades was inspected was March. Pettigrew said the building was re-inspected in June. They had corrected four of the five violations.
He said Cascades had not been deemed unsafe until the power was turned off last week.
"The city's got a very sophisticated fire inspection program, building inspection program, housing inspection program. In this case, the landlord didn't do their job," said Perkins.
Perkins said the city is working on a new program that won't depend on complaints to find code violations, but for now, they just have to rely on inspectors to be vigilant and tenants to report problems.
A new organization called the "Tenants' Association of Greensboro (TAG)" is trying to encourage renters to form tenant associations in their own communities, so they have more leverage when there are problems.
"Everyone is dealing with their own little individual problem, but if you know that there's an organization that represents your rights and your interests, then of course you're going to feel more empowered to be able to handle your individual situation with a little bit less fear," said Audrey Berlowitz, a member of TAG. "It's time for tenants to step up and start learning their rights and responsibilities, educating ourselves about the minimum housing code, and coming together collectively in order to respond to crisis situations, such as the one in the Cascade Grandview Apartments."
If you want more information on TAG, you can contact the group by calling 336-355-8503 or emailing email@example.com.
WFMY News 2